Quentin Bates- Cold Breath #BlogTour

Gunnhildur reluctantly allows herself to be taken off police duties to act as bodyguard to a man with a price on his head. Hidden away in a secure house outside Reykjavík, Gunna and the high-profile stranger, a guest of the interiors minister, are thrown together – too close for comfort. They soon find they are neither as safe nor as carefully hidden as Gunna and her boss had thought. Conflicting glimpses of the man’s past start to emerge as the press begin to sniff him out, as does another group with their own reasons for locating him. Gunna struggles to come to terms with protecting the life of a man who may have the lives of many on his conscience – or indeed may be the philanthropist he claims to be.
Isolated together, the friction grows between Gunna and the foreign visitor, and she realises they are out of their depth as the trails lead from the house outside Reykjavík to Brussels, Russia and the Middle East…

As well as being an accomplished translator of Scandinavian crime, Quentin Bates is also more than a bit nifty at this crime writing lark too! I am a staunch admirer of his Gunnhildur series, and, pardon the pun, Cold Breath once again proves to be a (cold) breath of fresh air…

I think where Bates excels is in his central character of Gunna Gunnhildur herself, and the different facets he reveals to her character with each book. Although most of the series to date have dwelt to a larger or lesser extent on her private life, and that of her sometimes wayward offspring, this book puts her firmly centre stage. Bates places her in an isolated position, where her conduits for conversation are either with the man she is tasked with protecting, or her police colleagues, shifting the focus of the book entirely onto how she copes with this new assignment. Suffice to say she proves herself more than up to the task, and with her refresher firearms training, a limited supply of clean underwear, and a steely determination she throws herself into this tricky assignment with a sense of purpose, determination and her customary dry humour.   Fending off those who would seek to harm her slippery protectee, and avoiding the equally slippery advances of said protectee, Gunnhildur finds herself involved in a tangled and disturbing global conspiracy, forcing her into a situation that calls on all her training and level headedness.

I thought this was a sophisticated and perfectly paced conspiracy thriller, touching on some large and controversial themes, with an even handed and focussed approach. Certain aspects of the conspiracy were very concerning, particularly in relation to the European migration issues, and the way that not all those involved in the charitable aspect of rescue and assimilation may be all that they seem. I enjoyed the political hornet’s nest that Osman’s, the erstwhile philanthropist, sojourn to Iceland stirs up, and the controversial fleeting visit of a gauche right wing American, in addition to the central plot itself. There is a real sense of evasion and coercion throughout, and with four murders in close succession, Gunnhildur and her colleagues find themselves in a fraught and frustrating investigation, stretching from the lowlife of Reykjavik to the harbingers of power.

Once again, Bates has produced a really enjoyable, and compelling read packed to the brim with energy, suspense, violence and humour, powered by his own knowledge of and perspective on Iceland. This really is a superb series, and if you haven’t dipped your toe as yet, I would highly recommend them. Gunnhildur is great!

(With thanks to Constable for the ARC)

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Blog Tour- John Le Carre- The Little Drummer Girl

Charlie in an unhappy English actress in her twenties, longing for commitment: but to what and to whom? While holidaying on the Greek island of Mykonos, she is seduced by a handsome and mysterious embattled Israeli intelligence officer, on a mission to stop the bombing of Jews in Europe. Forced to play her most challenging role, Charlie is plunged into an elaborate plot set to entrap the elusive Palestinian terrorist behind the attacks, and soon proves herself to be a double agent of the highest order…

And so to the last stop on the John Le Carre blog tour, and with the upcoming six part BBC screen adaptation, what better book to conclude this celebratory tour with than The Little Drummer Girl . The release of the book into a Penguin Modern Classic marks the completion of a nine-year project by Penguin to publish twenty-one of Le Carre’s novels, thus making him the most published author in this iconic series, acknowledging him as a writer not only for today, but for all time. As Helen Conford, Publisher Director at Penguin Books says, ” John Le Carre is one of the most important writers of our generation. For twenty-one of his novels to be published as Penguin Modern Classics is an acknowledgement not only of his immense literary achievement and the timeless quality of his work, but a well-deserved recognition of his significance as a writer who holds a mirror up to society, and encourages us to question the world around us.” The October transmission of the screen adaptation is brought to us by the award winning producers of The Night Manager, and stars Alexander Skarsgard and Florence Pugh.

The Little Drummer Girl is a page-turning story of love and loyalty set against the backdrop of the Middle East conflict, and I found it significantly different in tone and composition to the George Smiley series, and his other spy novels generally, which I am more familiar with. I think its no exaggeration to say that Charlie goes on an emotionally and physically draining journey during the course of this book, quickly maturing from an outspoken, incredibly dislikeable, and shockingly naïve young woman as she becomes a tool of the sinister Israeli Secret Service in their plot to entrap a Palestinian terrorist- a plot full of bluff and double-bluff The book is incredibly dense and labyrinthian, and attention must be paid, as some characters have different identities, and as a reader you are always second guessing their intentions and motivations in this unceasingly complex plot. With Le Carre’s always impeccable detail to plot structure, characterisation, location, and social and political mores of this particular point in history, the book manages to balance a sense of menace and claustrophobia with a convoluted love story that ties into the themes of loss and betrayal, with an immensely powerful denouement. A complicated. but ultimately satisfying read, that any admirer of John Le Carre will savour…

*****I have a copy of The Little Drummer Girl to giveaway to one lucky entrant in the prize draw. Simply leave your details in the contact form below (your details will not be displayed) by midnight on Friday 12th October to enter. UK only.***** GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED*** 

Congratulations to the winner Andrea Hedgcock

The Raven will be in contact soon for your mailing address! 

You can buy the complete range of John Le Carre Penguin Modern Classics here 

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Douglas Skelton- The Janus Run

When Coleman Lang finds his girlfriend Gina dead in his New York City apartment, he thinks nothing could be worse… until he becomes the prime suspect.

Desperate to uncover the truth and clear his name, Coleman hits the streets. But there’s a deranged Italian hitman, an intuitive cop, two US Marshals, and his ex-wife all on his tail. And trying to piece together Gina’s murky past without dredging up his own seems impossible. Worse, the closer he gets to Gina’s killer, the harder it is to evade the clutches of the mysterious organisation known only as Janus – from which he’d long since believed himself free…

Egged on by some of his fellow Scottish crime authors, Douglas Skelton has taken a break from crime fiction set in his native Scotland, and taken a wee diversion to the mean streets of New York in The Janus Run, and what an utterly splendid diversion it is…

Like another Raven favourite, David Jackson, I think Skelton has set out on a series that could have a lot of mileage, having introduced a cast of strong, well realised characters, combined with a real fly by the seat of your pants action thriller, with the action coming thick and fast. The central character, Coleman Lang is a man with a mysterious past, by day an advertising executive, and after the murder of his girlfriend Gina, revealed to be another man entirely with former links to a shady organisation with the moniker Janus. Joining forces with Gina’s estranged father Tony Falcone, a former Mafia henchman now in witness protection, the two set out on a troubled and violent vendetta to bring the real killer to justice, and avoid the attention of the NYPD (with Lang as their chief suspect), and the vengeance seeking former acquaintances of Falcone. It’s a dynamite combination from the start, with Lang clearly trying to resist being sucked back into his old ways and his links to Janus, and Falcone as a real act first, think later man with violent impulses, bent on revenge. Add into the mix a couple of credible strident female law enforcers in the shape of no-nonsense, Lieutenant Rosie Santoro, who I adored, and the shadowy US Marshall TP McDonough, along with a host of caricature-ish Mafia types, estranged lovers and family, and a real old school NYPD cop who tries to assist Lang and Falcone, all of whom Skelton brings vividly alive throughout. I thought the characterisation was first class, and supported by whip-smart dialogue which carried all the cadence and rhythm of speech you would expect from a New York/Italian cast, it all worked in harmony beautifully.

The plot itself was well constructed, high octane and full of tension, littered with car chases, shoot outs, and cross and double cross. As Lang and Falcone edge nearer to the truth of Gina’s demise, they begin to attract the attention of some real rum sorts, and no-one is safe, with violence being meted out willy-nilly along the way. It’s real punchy stuff, driven forward with energy and pace, and although I had a brief hiatus in reading this, when I picked it up again, I was slam bam right back in the thick of it. I really enjoyed this first foray by Skelton to stranger shores, and cannot wait for the next! Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Jo Nesbo- Macbeth #BlogTour

He’s the best cop they’ve got. When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess. He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. But a man like him won’t get to the top. Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his. Unless he kills for it.

With the Hogarth Shakespeare Project calling on the talents of some of the acclaimed novelists of today, to retell a selection of Shakespeare’s finest plays, who better to reimagine Macbeth with all its inherent darkness than bestselling crime author Jo Nesbo. Talking of his inspiration for his own Macbeth, Nesbo says that the original is “a thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy, noir like setting, and in a dark, paranoid human mind”, so not that far removed from the familiar crime writing tropes  we all recognise, So how does Nesbo’s take on this Shakespeare classic measure up?

Having pretty much forgotten the plot of Macbeth since reading it years ago, it was quite enjoyable not overthinking the comparisons and similarities between the play and Nesbo’s rendition, so however scant your knowledge of the original, the key characters and pivotal scenes are well in evidence here. The book is suffused with direct and reworked familiar quotes from the play, and at times there’s a cheery playfulness to how Nesbo attributes them to certain characters, tempered by the darkest proclamations that arise from the darkest deeds in the book. Sometimes the language feels a little over reliant on  quotes, even a touch forced. It seems that Nesbo gets too caught up in the need to echo the original, and the dialogue that comes from some characters seems a little disingenuous to our perception of them, and makes the dialogue rigid at times.  

However, like Shakespeare’s version, and as Nesbo alluded to himself, the key theme is power, and the desperate, violent and dehumanising actions that one man, the eponymous police officer Macbeth, takes to gain and consolidate power. As one character says of Macbeth’s lust for power, “He’s already managed to divest himself of any emotions that tie him to morality and humanity, now power is his new and only lover” and this is what Nesbo captures so perfectly in his characterisation. Macbeth, aided and abetted by his conniving lover Lady, is an intense and mesmerising character throughout, battling his physical addiction to ‘brew’, scheming and plotting, driven by his suffocating love for Lady and his own thirst for complete autocracy. I loved the sense of this claustrophobic vacuum that they exist in, completely immersed in each other, and both hungry for power, until the seismic shift in their relationship. Likewise, I thought that Duff was an incredibly interesting character, at one time the absolute confidante of Macbeth, but now as obsessed with justice as Macbeth is with power, whatever the cost to them both. There is a large cast of characters, and Nesbo balances them very well in what is more of a reading marathon than a sprint, keeping the reader on the back foot with the double dealing, betrayal, and sudden outbursts of extreme violence, as faithful to Shakespeare himself, he decreases them by the page by nefarious means. 

Undoubtedly, my favourite aspect of the book was the setting, in a reimagined Scottish city replete with poisonous air, seedy backstreets, the purveyors of human misery in drugs or gambling, a crumbling economy, but all resonating with the echo of history. Nesbo is incredibly good at grounding the reader in the specific location against which his characters vent and rage. plot and scheme and love and die, and there’s an incredibly visual quality to the book as a whole which is vital to alleviate the intensity of the raw emotions much in evidence here. This, and the very well defined characterisation was definitely central to my overall enjoyment of the book, which, although a little drawn out at times, slowed down by the necessity to reference the original a little too tenaciously, was a satisfying read overall. It mostly captured the dark and dangerous ambition and melancholy of Shakespeare’s original, and I’m sure this proved a very interesting writing experience for Nesbo himself.

To buy Macbeth by Jo Nesbo click here!

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(With thanks to Vintage for the ARC) 

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Blog Tour- Sara Gran- The Infinite Blacktop

Driven off the desert road and left for dead, Claire DeWitt knows that it is someone from her past trying to kill her, she just doesn’t know who. Making a break for it from the cops who arrive on the scene, she sets off in search of the truth, or whatever version of it she can find. But perhaps the biggest mystery of all lies deeper than that, somewhere out there on the ever rolling highway of life….

And so we reach the third instalment of Sara Gran’s terrific series featuring private detective Claire DeWitt, and what a powerhouse of a thriller it is. Tagged as a feminist take on the hardboiled tradition of Raymond Chandler, and described by me on Twitter as ‘Nancy Drew on meth’, this is a fast paced, nerve shredding roller coaster of a ride, with one of the most damaged, but engaging, protagonists in modern crime fiction…

Smoothly moving through three timeframes and criss crossing between Los Angeles, Las Vegas and other locations, Gran has created a perfectly weighted account of her DeWitt’s journey from fledgling junior detective, with two of her childhood friends (and a myriad of cases with the best Nancy Drew-esque monickers) through her development of skills under the tutelage of the enigmatic and eccentric private detective Constance Darling, to the current gigantic and dangerous sh*tstorm she finds herself in, as her past comes back to wreak revenge in the present. Not one to be deterred, despite the physical danger she often finds herself in, DeWitt continues her reputation as being as lethal as a cornered wild animal, and draws on all her cunning and ingenuity to track down the man who wishes her dead, opening up the dark experiences from her past, and the path to self destruction that she seems set to embark on. DeWitt is quite simply a gloriously kick ass character, driven by dark impulses, but sometimes showing moments of extreme emotional vulnerability, that when they come are as powerful in the narrative as the aura of violence and isolation that DeWitt embodies. Fuelled daily by a cocktail of liquor and drugs, which would lesser mortals into a catatonic state, we bear witness to the sleeplessness and hallucinations this produces, but also the steely edge and grim determination that this invokes in DeWitt. I found myself veering between like and dislike for her throughout the book, which is always a good reading experience, and I think most readers will experience the same. Gran’s characterisation of both DeWitt and her surrounding cast is superb, and skilfully encompass all the vices and virtues that make up the human psyche to one extreme or the other.

Before you are all set to thinking that this may all just be leading to a linear crime caper, there are two more facets of this book that Gran excels at. First is the whip smart dialogue which is tight, precise and, in the true hardboiled tradition of Chandler et al, gives a verve and tautness to the periods of interaction between character. This applies equally to the general writing style of the book, where truly no word is wasted, and the prose is crisp, cutting and perfectly rendered. Secondly, Gran also takes us on a cerebral journey referencing a book on detection, subtly titled ‘Detection’ by Jacques Silette (himself the tutor of DeWitt’s mentor Constance Darling) which Gran uses to illustrate the differing ‘schools’ of private detection, and their contrasting methods and mind-sets. I found these diversions in the multi-layered narrative, extremely effective, and perhaps these, more than other elements of the book, so clearly define why DeWitt is as mercurial as she is, and what drives her to succeed, despite the extremely dark events that have tarnished her emotional core.

I am a real fan of this series, and if you like your crime with a tantalisingly dangerous edge to it, powered by punchy dialogue, a dark wit, an even darker DeWitt herself, and a more psychological, cerebral feel this is one series you cannot ignore.  Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

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Pierre Lemaitre- Inhuman Resources

Alain Delambre is a 57-year-old former HR executive, drained by four years of hopeless unemployment. All he is offered are small, demoralizing jobs. He has reached his very lowest ebb, and can see no way out. So when a major company finally invites him to an interview, Alain Delambre is ready to do anything, borrow money, shame his wife and his daughters and even participate in the ultimate recruitment test: a role-playing game that involves hostage-taking. Alain Delambre commits body and soul in this struggle to regain his dignity.  But if he suddenly realised that the dice had been loaded against him from the start, his fury would be limitless. And what began as a role-play game could quickly become a bloodbath…

As well as producing one of the finest crime series, and a collection of unique standalones, Lemaitre once again demonstrates the reach and depth of his literary skill in this dark, cynical and twisted tale, which provides a perfect allegory of the daily struggle of the downtrodden individual against the power of the few…

Quickly, I was struck by how Lemaitre’s use of the absurd in the book, mirroring in style the venerable Pascal Garnier, becomes a powerful literary tool to cast an unflinching glare on the world of work, business and exploitation in French society, but by extension in every culture. By focussing on an older protagonist such as Alain Delambre, we feel the frustration and subjugation that he experiences, nearing the twilight years of his working life, and the disempowerment he rages against as he is unceremoniously thrown on the employment scrapheap. This is the cue for Lemaitre himself to rail against the exclusion of older workers, and the hugely depressing statistics concerning employees and unemployment, which pepper the book. Delambre is an angry man and incensed by the demeaning of his worth, so he formulates a plan: a plan that has severe implications for himself and his loving family. The extreme measures that Delambre undertakes, that dishonour both him and his family are shown to be symptomatic of a larger problem in society and Lemaitre addresses these with a razor sharp and cynical eye.

However, before you begin to think that this sounds like a fairly linear tale of a desperate man taking desperate measures to gain a foothold back in the world of employment, Lemaitre turns the tables on us, and in no short order we have a hostage crisis, embezzlement, computer fraud, a seriously ticked off security operative, violence, a family in disarray, a car chase, a court case and more. Taken in its entirety, Lemaitre beautifully paces moments of extreme pathos, and a general headshaking at the world of big business, with episodes of such verve and tension that add an energy and vigour to this seemingly mundane tale of the little man’s struggle in the face of unrelenting financial and emotional pressure. I loved the increasing confidence of Delambre as he formulates his plan to turn the tables, and the gradual shedding of his previously held morality to achieve his aim, despite the extraordinary sense of betrayal experienced by his wife and daughters. He proves with every fibre of his being that you can teach an old dog new tricks, and if these tricks happen to land him in a whole heap of trouble, he proves himself unafraid to take the chance, despite some unwelcome consequences.

Once again the seamless translation by Sam Gordon, picks up all the elasticity of Lemaitre’s manipulation and use of language, and heightens the perfect structuring and narrative pace that builds tension, and ratchets up the sense of human frailty and newly acquired resilience that Delambre embodies. I found this a hugely satisfying read, for not only the cynical yet pertinent appraisal of the exploitative world of business and its effect on older workers, but also as a genuinely pacey and endlessly surprising thriller as Delambre’s life appears to descend into violent freefall. Smartly done, and as a thriller with a difference, highly recommended,

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

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Tom Callaghan- An Autumn Hunting

No sooner has Akyl Borubaev been reinstated as an Inspector in the Bishkek Murder Squad than he’s suspended for alleged serious crimes against the state.After an attempted assassination of a prominent minister goes spectacularly wrong, Akyl is a fugitive from his former colleagues and involved with one of Kyrgyzstan’s most dangerous criminals.

On the run, caught up in a illegal scheme that can only end badly, it’s time for Akyl to take a stand for everything he believes in…

So in a blink of an eye we have reached the final instalment of Tom Callaghan’s exceptional Kyrgyzstan quartet featuring Inspector Akyl Borubaev, that all began with the brilliant A Killing Winter , and took us through A Spring Betrayal, and A Summer Revenge

I don’t usually pay much attention to the use of epigraphs before the book proper, but in this case the quote from Chingiz Aitmatov, “The hardest thing for anyone is to be a human being every day” is entirely appropriate for the emotional wringer that Borubaev goes through during the course of this one. Obviously, being the last book of the cycle, the story is incredibly influenced by events of previous books, but rest assured you are kept firmly in the loop, as to who, what, where and how Borubaev has reached this precarious state, both professionally and emotionally. You never shake the sense that Borubaev is a pawn in a much larger game, not always voluntarily, and in a similar style to the sub genre of East German crime thrillers, there’s always the sinister shadow of other security services seeking to control and manipulate him. Borubaev is a superbly constructed character being the archetypal lone wolf, but being neither utterly corrupt nor totally moral. This book, perhaps even more so that the others, sees him playing a dangerous game, inveigling himself with a ruthless criminal with an illegal mission in Bangkok, and appearing to burn all his bridges in his homeland too. As usual, he navigates some very choppy waters indeed, with the requisite amount of physical fear and violence that Callaghan so precisely and excitingly punctuates his books with, and as the book spirals to one of the best closing chapters I have read for some time, this is real edge of the seat stuff throughout. The book is also littered with little flashes of dark, mordant humour and precisely placed barbs aimed at the State, complete with a knowing raise of the eyebrow.

As he uses his natural guile to stay one step ahead, Borubaev’s character is such that we are also allowed to witness moments of extreme emotion and natural sympathy, particularly in his intermittent dalliance with the femme fatale figure of tough hitwoman Saltanat, when a new development in their relationship is revealed- a development that brings his previous marriage back into sharp focus and analysis. Throughout the series his affair with the totally self contained, clinical Saltanat has been an interesting diversion in the unrelenting grimness, uncompromising violence and double crossing that gives the real punch to the writing, and I was curious to see what would happen with them, being such unlikely bedfellows. Callaghan does not disappoint, and instead of the usual schmaltz-laden interludes that ‘tough guys’ have, there is a real depth of emotion and extreme pathos to the hurdles in their relationship.

Once again, Callaghan uses the grey, bleak feel of Kyrgyzstan, both in terrain and in the socio-political sense, to full effect, focussing on the poverty, social deprivation and corruption rife in society. When the action shifts to Bangkok, these themes are revisited as Borubaev witnesses the highs and lows of life in this pulsing city, rich on the surface, but with an underbelly of poverty and extreme exploitation. There is a real depth and richness to Callaghan’s depiction of both locations, and how the problems of an individual state, are all too often repeated and visible in others, most notably the twin evils of drugs and sexual exploitation, and those who profit from them.

I thought this book was a sublime addition to the previous three, and a fitting conclusion to the series, leaving a little catch in the throat, but as a reader a genuine feel of having read a truly satisfying sequence of books. The locations, characterisation, social and political detail, and genuine page-turning excitement are a credit to Tom Callaghan’s writing, and I have enjoyed (and recommended widely) every book. An Autumn Haunting is no exception.  Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

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